Tuesday 30 June 2020

Lives Matter

San Francisco Hosts Annual Its Gay Pride Parade I came across an interesting post on Missio Alliance about ways predominantly white churches can respond positively to the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter campaigns.

It is written by a pastor in the US, but I was struck by its echo of the message of St Paul to churches almost two thousand years ago. It is fundamental to the Gospel of Jesus that in him are gathered all ethnicities, all social classes and all genders:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28)
Black lives matter because all lives matter and it is black lives which are being disproportionately squandered in Western Europe and North America. Whatever the ethnic mix of our own local church community, as part of the worldwide family of Jesus we need to live out the truth that central to our 'good news' is that the lives of our black brothers and sisters matter.

The lives of the poorest in our society matter. Across the world it is the poorest whose lives are being disproportionately thrown away. Whatever the social mix of our own local church community, if we are part of the worldwide family of Jesus we need to live out the truth that central to the Christian message is that the lives of our poorest brothers and sisters matter.

Trans lives matter, as do gay and lesbian lives. Across the world including, sadly, its religious communities, those who do not conform to gender norms are disproportionately abused, bullied, rejected and murdered. Whatever the mix of gender conformity in our own local church community, as part of the family of Jesus we need to live out the heart of our 'good news' that the lives of our LGBT+ siblings matter.

There are, of course, so many other disadvantaged groups in our societies, but these are three where many predominantly white UK churches seem to be in denial (as well as being the three specifically covered by St Paul). The Christian Gospel is that in Christ all lives matter, so we are called to act specifically on behalf of those 'others' whose lives are treated as 'less' by the societies of which we are a part.

Grace and peace.

Friday 15 February 2019


I've been getting a lot of comments submitted for recent (and not so recent) posts over the last few weeks, and I'm frankly a little puzzled!

The confusion comes because I've gone from getting a comment once in a blue moon to suddenly receiving loads of anonymous comments. They're all very affirmative but in a vague way which never engages with the content:-
"Fantastic website. A lot of useful information here."
"I every time spent my half an hour to read this website's posts everyday along with a mug of coffee."
As a quick look at my blog history will show, my posting frequency really doesn't support daily visits. But, apart from that, my last post, Like Jesus, has attracted 44 comments, none of which mention Jesus, beatitudes, nor anything else in that post's Labels list. So what is going on?

My first thought was 'spam', of course. But I don't see what benefit anyone can get out of an anonymous comment with no links in (there has been definite spam as well, of course, but that gets purged before comments are published).

My second thought is that there might be someone who has posted a comment with the genuine intention of engaging with me and with the article's content, but has just been a little sideways about it. I would be disappointed if I failed to respond to such.

So, a couple of requests: firstly, does anyone have any idea what the cause of all these vague and anonymous posts might be?

Secondly, if you do want to engage with me, please give a name and mention something in the post's content so I know you are a human being not some mysterious bot. I realise Blogger/Blogspot doesn't have the friendliest commenting system around, but please use your comment to let me know you are a real person and I'll do my best to answer any questions or respond to any comments.

In the meantime, do have a great week.

Grace and peace,

Monday 10 December 2018

Like Jesus

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Just because you are accepted by God doesn’t mean you will be acceptable to the world.

Just because you do things in line with God’s will doesn’t mean the powers of the world will treat you well.

Just because you are becoming like Jesus that doesn’t mean religious and secular authorities will deal with you any differently to the way they treated Jesus … and Stephen, and Paul, and many, many more followers since.

So why is it that here in Caversham (maybe where you live too?) the authorities just leave us to get on our churchgoing? What is it about our expression of faith that the authorities see as safe and unthreatening to their status and power?

This final beatitude both circles back to the first and looks forward to the next section of Jesus’ teaching in his 'sermon on the mount'.

It circles back by showing that as Jesus’ followers are persecuted, excluded and marginalised by religious authorities, so they are among the ‘poor in spirit’ whose place in God’s kingdom is already given. The world attempts to destroy our hope but Jesus guarantees it.

Those who are persecuted for seeking God’s justice align themselves with the poor and so share in their oppression, but they also share in their reward.

At the time Matthew wrote this Jesus’ followers had suffered a generation or more of persecution from religious leaders of the day and their inappropriately zealous followers. The idea that those who they considered unworthy – “Gentiles and sinners” - might be acceptable to God was just too much for them to accept.

Today, if we want to live like Jesus then we need to be open-eyed and pure-hearted about whose side he was on: the victim and never the bully, the outsider and never the excluder, the poor and never the oppressor.

This beatitude also looks forward in defiance: the world may persecute you for being like Jesus but you remain salt and light, so live as such and don’t pretend or disguise your Christ-likeness. Live in Grace but excel in Godliness, so that all may see Jesus in your faith and in your persecution.

Finally, we are called to love those who persecute us – who but a madman or a Christian would do such a thing?

Tuesday 4 December 2018

Peace Positive Peace

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

It's a hundred years since an armistice marked the end of fighting in the First World War, and the beginning of the peace negotiations in Paris which led up to the Treaty of Versailles. The British staff officer Archibald Wavell said despondently of that Paris Peace Conference, "After the 'war to end war', they seem to have been pretty successful in Paris at making the 'Peace to end Peace'." Sadly, he was right. There is more to peace than a pause in fighting.

Peacemaking is where the Beatitudes all come together. ‘Peace’ in the Bible is a very positive concept: not so much about absence of conflict, much more about positive peace, security and, especially, restoration of relationships. Relationships with God, relationships with one another, even restoration of our relationship with the natural world: restoration of our given role as responsible stewards of creation. Peace is about balancing justice and mercy so that they become two sides of the same coin. And peace is about seeing God’s will in the situations around us and being transparent enough to allow Jesus to work through us to carry out that will.

But how can someone ‘make’ peace if they have not first received peace? This beatitude follows on from the previous one because it is through seeing God and spending time with him that one receives his peace. As Paul puts it:
The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
A bit later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus extends his ideas of peacemaking in ways which highlight just how and why that Paris Peace Conference failed so badly:
You know that you have been taught, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”  But I tell you not to try to get even with a person who has done something to you. ... You have heard people say, “Love your neighbours and hate your enemies.” But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends. If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about that? Don’t even unbelievers do that? But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Given God’s peace and security within us, Jesus’ words about loving enemies and praying for those who persecute us become less abnormal and more like a natural response to what we have received and want to share. It is as we treat all alike, with love, that we develop our relationship with them, as well as with God. It is also how we gain people’s trust, which is an essential prerequisite to building peace with and between them.

Jesus’ call, at the end of the quote above, to be perfect, just like God, sounds like an impossible demand. Looked at another way though - remembering the previous beatitude's emphasis on seeing things with purity of heart - it is an amazing promise! In part it is a promise for after the resurrection, when we are to be renewed in a renewed heaven and earth; but it is also a promise for here and now. Not that we ourselves are now perfect, but that Jesus, who is perfect, can work in and through us, here and now.

This parish, following on from the Oxford Diocese, has a vision statement about 'becoming Christ-like'. But this beatitude is where that vision – if taken simplistically – rather breaks down. It is not enough that we be like Jesus – we need to bring Jesus himself to the people and situations around us daily. In purity of heart we not only see God but also let his love shine through. We are not just called to be Christ-like; we are called to be Christ’s body - his heart and hands, feet and voice in Caversham and beyond, today and in the days and weeks to come.

Sunday 16 September 2018

When We Judge Others We Condemn Ourselves

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

There are a number of places in the Gospels which tell of Jesus healing someone in desperate need, only for those in positions of religious authority to condemn him for it. One example is told by Matthew:
Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw.  And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?”  But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”
Jesus responds that "the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." People whose hearts are full of evil will see evil, even in what is good.

Which brings us to our next Beatitude: blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. It is only as our hearts are purified from the filth which enshrouds them that we begin to see the pure wholesome light of God.

Jesus tells us not to judge others; doing so is a sign that our hearts are not pure. There is a passage in St Paul's letter to the church in Rome which begins by talking about people who are far from God whose lifestyles end up in a mess. That bit is often quoted by religious types, but they somehow forget about the punchline:
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.
Those self-appointed judges struggle with this: how can they be accused of "degrading passions" and a "debased mind"? The truth is that in passing judgement on others they show themselves to have impure and degraded hearts, fully deserving of all the rigours of God's judgement.

If they had pure hearts they would see God present and at work wherever they looked, for God is everywhere. They would see children of God, who he loves and longs to save, and would do everything they could to show these children God's loving grace, not heartless judgement.

If only we had pure hearts, what difference could we make with Jesus?

But how can our hearts be purified? By us praying lots and reading the Bible? Well, it can't hurt ... but remember that the Pharisees did a lot of that. By asking God to change our hearts through his Holy Spirit within us? Probably better, and it does fit in with the words of the ancient prophet Ezekiel:
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
But we are called to more than that. God will do the bulk of the work, of course, but we must do our part as well: we need to actively look for Jesus in the people and situations around us, and join in with whatever he is doing. We must freely share God's grace and God's love.

We must let people know the good news that God wants to include everyone in his family, however unlikely that may seem in human terms. It is as we see Jesus in those who our neighbours scorn, especially those despised by our religious neighbours, that we know we are making progress.

Everybody has a choice, of course, and can turn away from God as easily as they can turn to him. May your choices in the coming weeks always turn you toward the light of God  and may you and yours know the blessings of his wonderful grace.